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United Award Devaluations and Other Changes

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United Airlines recently announced another round of changes to its MileagePlus award program. These include a variety of increases in award prices, a new variable scheme to replace Standard awards and new redeposit fee rules. The award devaluation is not as massive as United’s previous devaluation which became effective at the beginning of 2014.

While the last devaluation may not seem like very long ago for many travelers, by the time the new award chart takes effect on November 1st, 2017 it will have been almost four years so in some ways we should be thankful that these changes aren’t even worse.

Short-Haul Economy Awards Outside the US

There is actually some good news this time as non-stop intra-region economy flights of 800 miles or less outside the US will now only cost 8K miles each way, down from 10K-20K currently. This puts short haul economy awards within international regions more in-line with domestic awards which have had reduced pricing for years. Domestic economy awards under 700 miles cost 10K miles each way as opposed to the base rate of 12.5K miles for flights longer than that threshold.

These new awards are great for hopping around compact geographical areas that have multiple cities you would like to visit, such as in Europe or the Caribbean. This also makes these redemptions competitive with another very popular option for booking short haul flights, which is using British Airways Avios for nonstop flights starting at 7.5K miles each way.

Devaluation of Award Chart

The good news is that no award price increases are being implemented for Saver level economy awards. Unfortunately, there are a bevy of devaluations for business and first class awards, both for awards on United metal and on Star Alliance partners.

No award price increases are being implemented for Saver level economy awards
No award price increases are being implemented for Saver level economy awards

For flights on United metal, the devaluations were focused on longer flights as those to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Northern South America were left unchanged. However, flights to most other regions saw increases in prices, especially to the various regions in Asia, the Middle East, and Australia/New Zealand. In most cases, prices were increased by 5K miles each way in business class and 10K miles each way in first class. Flights to Australia and New Zealand were hit the hardest with prices going up 10K and 20K each way in business and first class, respectively.

We have displayed the changes for all regions in the chart below, with the increased prices highlighted.

Saver Level Award Changes for Flights on United Metal

RegionBusiness (Old)Business (New)First (Old)First (New)
US, Alaska, Canada*25253535
Central America30304040
North South America35354545
South South America55607080
Northern Africa70708585
Central/South Africa70708590
Middle East70759090
Central Asia70759090
South Asia70758095
North Asia70708090
Australia/New Zealand708080100

*Transcontinental flights with lie-flat beds (EWR-LAX/SFO and BOS-SFO) will require 35k miles for saver level business class.

**Two-cabin first-class Hawaii flights will require 50k miles. Award pricing depends on the configuration of the plane.

United also increased award prices for Star Alliance partner flights, though the devaluation was not as widespread here. Again, there were no changes to economy Saver level prices. Award price increases for business class were similar to those on United metal, with many regions increasing by 5K miles each way.

South Asia and Australia/New Zealand were hit the hardest with 10K mile increases each way. These last two regions were also the only ones to see an increase in partner first class award prices, also 10K each way. United already had astronomical first class partner award prices for most of the more distant regions, this only exacerbates their uncompetitive pricing in this area. For most long-haul premium cabin partner awards you are better off booking through other Star Alliance partners such as Aviana, ANA or Asiana.

There are a bevy of United award devaluations for business and first class awards
United business and first class awards will see some devaluations later this year

The full table of partner award chart changes is displayed below, with increased prices highlighted.

Saver Level Award Changes for Flights on Star Alliance Partners

DestinationJ (Old)J (New)F (Old)F (New)
US, Alaska, Canada25253535
Central America30304040
North South America35354545
South South America55607080
Northern Africa8080130130
Central/South Africa8080130130
Middle East8085140140
Central Asia8085140140
South Asia8090130140
North Asia8090120120
Australia/New Zealand8090130130

Changes to United’s No-Show Policy

United currently has a generous policy for no-shows on award tickets. People who don’t show up for an award flight can have their miles redeposited by paying the standard redeposit fees which range from $125 for general members to $0 for those this 1K elite status. Now all no-shows will have to pay $125 regardless of status. While this slightly reduces the value of elite status, it also prevents people from being able to waste award space without consequence, so it will be beneficial for the vast majority of travelers.

Replacement of Standard Awards with Everyday Awards

United currently has two levels of awards: Saver and Standard. Savers awards are the relatively cheap prices that most people reference when discussing award bookings and that have limited space. Standard awards are essentially a way of paying with miles and typically cost double the Saver rate plus 5K-10K additional miles. While these are not a useful method of getting substantial value out of your miles, they do provide a standardized price and allow you to save cash.

Everyday awards will be subject to variable pricing and will fluctuate with supply and demand. United has published a new award chart that includes the highest price for each region’s Everyday award. In almost all cases the highest possible price is more expensive than the current Standard award rates. However, since the prices are variable you may be able to find cheaper awards that aren’t significantly more expensive than Saver level awards. This makes United’s award system closer to Delta’s, although United will retain more transparency by continuing to publish award charts. It will behoove travelers to continuously monitor prices to see if there is an Everyday award price that is acceptable to them if no Save

r level space is available.

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